A Grinder in Brighton but Arsenal Pinch a Point (Report & Ratings)

October 3, 2021
White needed to be on top form against his old club

As predicted in yesterday’s pre-match, our away day trip to the seaside turned out to be tough going.

Brighton are flying high and full of confidence and they dominated proceedings yesterday. On the balance of play they probably deserved all three points, but that’s not how it works.

Resilient defending from Arsenal plus wastefulness on the part of Brighton’s attackers saw us heading back to London with a point in the bag and our recent unbeaten run continuing.

Arteta made only one change from the team that ripped the Spuds apart last weekend – Lokonga coming in for the injured Xhaka – and it may well have been a significant alteration.

Even so, we started very brightly, moving the ball quickly and running at the Seagulls with determination. Saka wriggled through a couple of challenges and into the home side’s box, Smith-Rowe was on the front foot and it felt as if we were carrying straight on from the North London Derby win.

That lasted about 10 minutes.

Then Brighton seized control of the game and never really let it go again. Their high pressing game forced us to mostly kick long and (as Ramsdale admitted in a post-match interview) when we did go long their giant centre backs gobbled up everything that wasn’t straight to our players’ feet (which was most of the clearances).

In possession Brighton looked like a team playing with the confidence that comes from knowing a win will take them to second in the table and they created numerous chances.

However, it is important to point out that these were mostly half chances, not open-goal misses. Our two centre halves had to work their socks off and both did really well.

Ben White was returning to the club he’d left in the summer and, as a result, was on the receiving end of some half-hearted booing from the home fans. I though he seemed nervous for the first 20 minutes but then settled down and was outstanding, as was his partner Gabriel.

New recruit Tomayisu, after a flying start to his Arsenal career, had a bumpier ride in this game and at left back Tierney seemed a little subdued again. Even so, both full backs worked hard for the full 90 minutes.

In central midfield Partey put in a shift and Lokonga looked comfortable whenever he was on the ball, but that particular pairing never managed to take control of the centre of the park for any protracted period. It made me wonder whether we were missing the solid platform that Xhaka gives us. For all his faults, the Swiss offers composure on the ball (most of the time).

Up front, apart from the odd moment, things just didn’t click. Perhaps the blustery, rainy conditions played a part, but our front four of Odegaard, Smith-Rowe, Saka and Aubameyang didn’t click the way they did against the Tiny Totts. Some of the credit for that must go to Brighton’s defending as a team, but we weren’t as sharp as we might have been.

The team had clearly been instructed not to try a committed high press when Brighton had the ball at the back, but it seemed an odd approach to the game. It meant we were sitting back almost on the half way line and allowing the home team to build up their attacks at their leisure.

Plenty for Arteta to work on.

In the end it was a relief to get away with a point, particularly as we’re heading into a two week international break.

Player Ratings

Ramsdale – 7.5

He didn’t need to be too busy despite Brighton’s dominance but made a couple of key saves towards the end, including intercepting a ball that was heading to Maupay for a simple tap-in. He said afterwards that hs kicking was off and he wants to improve. His personality and commitment shone through again.

Tomayisu – 6

Worked hard but struggled at times with the Brighton press.

White – 8 (MoTM)

After a nervy start he settled well and dominated the centre of defence, making some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Gabriel – 7.5

He was fully focussed for the entire match and needed to be. His partnership with White is looking very promising and without their performances yesterday we would surely have lost.

Tierney – 6

Is it me, or does Tesco look a bit out-of-sorts? He got forward a couple of times early on to get dangerous crosses in, but his support for the attack dwindled after that. Perhaps it was just that Brighton were pressing so determinedly that he did not have the opportunity to get into the enemy half.

Partey – 7

Apart from his long distance shooting (which poses a serious threat to low flying aircraft) Thomas put in another classy individual performance even though we struggled to get any control in midfield.

Lokonga – 6.5

He looks comfortable on the ball and his commitment is there, but his lack of experience showed at times and almost put us in trouble once or twice.

Odegaard – 6.5

Worked hard as always, but he seemed to be the only Arsenal player attempting a high press (rendering it useless). He did not manage to influence the game as much as he did in the NLD.

Saka – 6.5

Some bright moments, but our inability to control midfield meant his chances to impact the game were few and far between.

Smith-Rowe – 7

Probably the pick of our attackers. Brighton had obviously spotted him as a danger man and made sure to trip him every time he looked to be getting away. A better referee would have booked someone early on for one of these small ‘professional’ fouls but Moss let them go.

Aubameyang – 6

Was caught on the back foot on a couple of the (rare) occasions when we threatened the Brighton goal and was incapable of holding up the ball when receiving it long. The way the game panned out we would probably have been better with Lacazette down the middle as he is better at holding up and laying off.

SUBS

Pepe – 5

He got a full 30 minutes after coming on for Odegaard. I honestly can’t remember anything that he did.

Lacazette – 6.5

Replaced the ineffectual Aubameyang on 72 minutes and had a couple of moments where his hold-up play helped us relieve the Brighton pressure. No real sniff of goal.

Maitland-Niles – N/A

Came on for Saka in the 90th.

RockyLives


Brighton Pose a Tough Challenge: Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

October 2, 2021
Brighton away: we’ll fight them on the beaches…

You have to give credit to Brighton and Hove Albion and their head coach Graham Potter.

Since getting back into the Premier League in 2017 they have established themselves as a good, competitive side and they’re really reaping rewards this year for the solid groundwork they have been putting in.

I doubt many of us – at the start of the season – would have expected that when we visited the South Coast in early October Brighton would be joint second in the league, only a point behind the leaders.

The Seagulls are on a great run, they’re in good form and in Maupay they have a dangerous goal threat.

So should we be scared?

Nope. Not if we can bring the attitude to today’s game that we brought to the North London Derby last Sunday.

Brighton are good, but our own team is slowly beginning to create an identity for itself and at the pointy end we have players with the creativity to hurt anyone.

On paper a draw would be a good result for us today, but I will be disappointed with anything less than a win.

Team news is that Xhaka is out with the knee injury he picked up against the N17 Miscreants, but everyone else should be available. With no midweek games ahead and an international break coming up there’s no reason to rest anybody.

With that in mind I expect to see Arteta start with the same team that blew away the Spuds in the first half last weekend, minus the injured Xhaka. I would be inclined to replace the Swiss with Sambi Lokonga, but El Patron may want an older head in amongst our precocious youngsters and might opt for Elneny. We’ll see.

Brighton are effective from set pieces so we’ll need to be disciplined about not giving up fouls in dangerous places and our defensive focus will need to be top notch. Let’s hope that the impressive Ben White reacts to a game against his old club by putting in a man-of-the-match performance.

Here’s the team I expect to see take the field:

Ramsdale

Tomayisu – White – Gabriel – Tiermey

Lokonga – Partey

Odegaard

Saka – Aubameyang – Smith-Rowe

Come on you Gunners!

RockyLives


Rowdegaard Rising: Has Arteta Cracked the Creativity Conundrum?

September 28, 2021
Blonde on Blonde: a lethal combination

We are fortunate to have two such creative attacking midfield talents as Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard.

Yet some supporters have been doubtful as to whether the two can be accommodated in the same starting line-up or whether they are in an either/or situation.

Indeed, when we signed the Norwegian on a permanent deal this summer there were concerns that his arrival would push the young Englishman down the pecking order and hinder his development.

So it was very gratifying to see the pair start in tandem against the N17 Miscreants on Sunday and to both play so well.

They also started the previous league game (our 1-0 win away at Burnley) and were in the line-up that allowed Aubameyang to grab a hat trick against Leeds United last season in a 4-2 victory.

Selecting a starting eleven is a careful balancing act and it’s easy to see why some of us have had concerns about Odegaard and ESR meshing successfully without either leaving us weak in midfield or forcing other key players onto the bench.

For example, if we now assume that a trio of ESR-Ode-Saka behind Aubameyang might be Mikel Arteta’s preferred starting line-up, then where does that leave the likes of Pepe (our most expensive player), Martinelli (one of our most promising) and Lacazette (one of the most experienced)?

Personally I prefer the idea of putting our best players on the pitch and finding a way to make it work. And ESR and Odegaard are certainly among our best players (along with Saka and Auba).

You don’t have to look back very far to remember a time when, although we had tightened up defensively, we were having real trouble creating chances. It was a common complaint in comments on this blog and others.

So when you have two such creative players as our blonde-on-blonde duo it is surely incumbent upon the manager to create a system that allows them both to feature and I, for one, am glad that El Patron seems to have found a way of doing just that.

Will it be appropriate for every game? Perhaps not. Against Chelsea or Man City the manager may choose to sacrifice a bit of that attacking thrust, but in many, many matches it is a combination that puts us on the front foot.

And it may well work even against the best teams: on Sunday it was a joy to see how quickly we broke on the counter-attack, leaving the Spuds dead in our tracks. We have seen very little of that kind of speedy defence-to-attack play under Arteta and too much of the constipated, crab-like ‘horseshoe’ approach.

For parts of last season it seemed that Arteta’s preferred attacking set-up was Lacazette up front, Auba on the left, Pepe or Saka on the right and one of Odegaard or ESR behind the striker. It worked at times, but typically produced slow build-up play with the ball going into Laca’s feet then being passed back out and sideways as we probed for openings.

The new approach is much more pleasing on the eye and much harder to defend against.

RC suggested yesterday that it now appears as if Arteta has finally developed a clear idea of what his best starting formation is – and it includes all three of ESR, Saka and Odegaard. With a proven finisher like Auba ahead of them, that’s a combined attacking threat that will worry any team in the EPL.

RockyLives


First NLD to AFC…London is red for now :-)

September 27, 2021

I did not see the game but just the highlights and read the reactions from coaches, players and pundits alike and it seems that:

  1. We played quite well
  2. Spurs were quite poor

So ultimately, the result needs to be assessed against these two critera:

  1. We played quite well with a good pressing, some good front-foot defending especially in the first half and lethal counter-attacks;
  2. Spurs were just poor with and without the ball and Kane casted an isolated figure.

So the momentum has really turned from

  • ecstatic Spurs’ fans who were top of the league after 3 games with convincing wins and a good game plan to deflated Spurs fan with 3 losses in 3 games with at least 3 goals conceded in each defeat;
  • deflated AFC’s fans who were bottom of the league after 3 games with no wins, no goals scored and no real understanding of Arteta’s game plan to encouraged AFC fans with 3 wins a row, only 1 goal conceded and 5 goals scored…

The tables have turned and Nuno must be feeling the heat already…Arteta got some reprieve for sure but not everything was rosy from what I gathered since Kane could have scored from a free header, gotten a penalty kick too so…let us not yet scream on top of the roofs that AFC is a top 6 contender 🙂

Overall, it was a good week-end for us with Liverpool, Chelsea, Utd and Chelsea losing but we still have a lot to do to become genuine Top 6 contenders.

For what it is worth, Arteta has found:

  • his starting GK as Ramsdale continues his good spell;
  • his starting back-four with a special mention to Tomyasu who seems to have 3 lungs;
  • his attacking unit by playing ESR on the left

Of course, the double-pivot is still up in the air due to Partey being injury prone, Xhaka being injury and red-cared prone…However, yesterday, it seemed that this partnership worked.

Auba was also involved in the game. Of course, this display is quite bad news for Pepe and Lacazette but ultimately, they will have to just push for a starting berth.

Great day for ESR and Saka and apparently, Tierney was also in fine form.

A well deserved win but let us be cautious and keep our heads down, work hard and hope for another good result next week at Brighton!

COYG! London is Red!


Arsenal v AFC Wimbledon: Pick Your Gunners’ Starting 11

September 22, 2021
Another start for Ainsley?

Tonight we entertain AFC Wimbledon at the Emirates in the Carabao Cup as we hope to make it three wins on the bounce.

With the North London Derby looming on Sunday Mikel Arteta is sure to want to protect some of his key players, but he’ll need to balance that urge with the necessity of getting a win.

Apart from the sense of momentum a third straight victory will give us, the Carabao Cup is one of only two possibilities for silverware this season (along with the FA Cup).

Wimbledon are doing well in League One and are notable for their aerial threat from set pieces, with both centre backs contributing to their goal tally this year.

In that regard, last weekend’s away trip to Burnley was good preparation for the long ball bombardment that’s sure to come our way tonight.

And so to the big question: does El Patron start with a really strong team and hope to rest players from around 60 minutes onwards if we’ve put the game to bed?

Or does he start with a mostly B team and keep the big guns on the bench for emergencies?

I suspect it will be the latter (see below), although I would not be surprised if he opts for a half-and-half team with a sprinkling of First Teamers in the starting line up.

Squad news is that Xhaka is still suspended and Elneny is a doubt. Other than that there’s a full complement to pick from.

Here’s my suggested starting eleven:

Leno

Chambers – Holding – Mari – Tavares

Maitland-Niles – Lokonga

Odegaard

Pepe – Lacazette – Martinelli

What do you think Arteta will do?

And what would you do?

RockyLives


More Turf at Turf Moor? Long Grass Fails to Entangle Gunners (plus Ratings)

September 19, 2021
The pitch at Burnley

And so we continue to climb slowly out from the trough of despond into which we had descended after the first three games of the season.

A splendid Martin Odegaard free kick was enough to secure the points away at Burnley yesterday in an unspectacular game during which our forward line failed to fire on all cylinders.

Afterwards Mikel Arteta commented on the fact that Burnley had not mown the pitch prior to the game, meaning that the grass was longer than it should be for a typical EPL fixture.

Longer-than-usual grass will play havoc with a team that likes to play the ball on the ground (a team like, er, Arsenal), but will have less of a negative impact on a team that likes to pump long balls into the box (such as, er, Burnley).

If this really was an issue it may go some way to explaining the very obvious failings in our attack.

Numerous times in the game we created lovely moves and opened up Burnley only for the final pass to be overhit or underhit.

We can only assume that our players were trying to navigate the unreliable pace of the ball across the surface, but had a few of those passes found their mark I am confident we would have had at least one extra goal, maybe more.

But while our attackers struggled, our defence turned in an excellent performance as a unit against a tough, physical Burnley side.

Both Gabriel and White stood up really well to the attempted physical intimidation of Burnley’s lumpen strikers Wood (so named because he resembles a wardrobe) and Barnes (so named because he’s built like a barn).

Gabriel in particular looks the sort of powerful defender who is capable of meeting any physical challenge and, at only 23, his career ceiling is very high.

Elsewhere Tomayisu had another good game, winning all his aerial duels and covering his position well and Tierney, although not as emphatic getting forward as he can be, was a solid anchor at left bank.

In midfield Partey did a good job of keeping us secure and helping to start attacks, while Odegaard roamed with menace, although he faded somewhat in the second half.

There were one or two moments when we got ourselves into trouble with mis-hit passes in our own defensive third (again, possibly, connected with the rolling swathes of prairie that billowed the length and breadth of the Turf Moor pitch). The worst moment was an underhit back pass from White to Ramsdale, resulting in referee Anthony Taylor awarding a penalty to Burnley.

For once, the gods of VAR chose to smile on us, as the replay showed Ramsdale had clearly got the ball before the Burnley attacker went over.

I should also mention that Taylor did well to hand out a couple of bookings to Burnley players early in the game, thereby curtailing their obvious tactic of trying get “get stuck into” us. Good refereeing, which is a rarity.

Ramsdale’s overall performance was also noteworthy: for this fan it is always a pleasure to see a goalie who commands his area and comes for crosses. We had it briefly with Emi Martinez when Leno was injured the season before last: we suddenly saw what a difference it makes when a ‘keeper catches rather than punches; when he comes off his line to dominate the box rather than standing glued to the goal line.

And now we have it again with Ramsdale. Leno is a terrific shot stopper but, based on what I have seen so far, I’ll take Ramsdale any day of the week and especially on a Saturday.

Job done. Six points from the last two games. Two clean sheets. Can we keep the run going? Let’s see… who are we playing next weekend? Aha, what a mouthwatering prospect.

A couple of weeks ago the Spuds were celebrating a league table that had them at the top and us at the bottom as if it were an actual trophy.

You can’t blame them – they’re not very familiar with what trophies look like. But even so, it’s possible that at full time next weekend we and they will be on level points. Of course, this depends on the Chavs beating them later today and on us beating them in the derby, but you never know…

Player Ratings

Ramsdale – 8

Tomayisu – 7

White – 7.5

Gabriel – 8.5 (MoTM)

Tierney – 6.5

Partey – 7

Odegaard – 7.5

Saka – 6.5

Smith Rowe – 6.5

Pepe – 6

Aubameyang – 6

Subs

Sambi – 7

Maitland-Niles – 6.5

Tavares – N/A

RockyLives


Burnley – Arsenal, another 3 points in the bag?

September 18, 2021
Burnley vs Arsenal Predictions, Betting Tips & Match Preview

Finally, some AFC Football again! Since there are no cup games at the moment or European football for us this season, it seems we are having AFC Footie withdrawal symptoms…

So today’s game is so welcome! We are playing at Burnley who is also struggling. They are not a great team by any means but they work hard – direct football, long balls, set-pieces pressure… It will be important to be present in the duels, air and on second-balls (knock downs). Ultimately, we should have enough quality and fire power to see them off but we need to start on the front foot with a lot of…Intensity (Mikel’s favourite word). Holding, El Neny probably out and Xhaka is still suspended.

I would play a 343 today with the following line-up:

Ramsdale – Tomy, White, Gabriel – Saka, Lokonga, AMN, Tierney – ESR, Laca, Auba

I still can’t fit Ode in my team so not sure how Arteta does it…lol

Now Arteta would pbbly play:

Ramsdale – Tomy, White, Gabriel, Tierney – Lokonga, AMN – Saka, Ode, ESR – Auba

It is going to come down today to (i) Ramsdale aerial capacity/commanding his box, (ii) Lokonga and AMN to protect our box on knockdown ballsm (iii) on White and Gabriel to neutralize long/direct balls and then (iv) on Tierney, Saka to stretch the defense and Auba’s ability to finish chances. If Laca were starting, then I think ESR will score but I doubt Laca will start but he will come in and be a game changer.

I can see Laca and Auba score today but I am not sure we will win…especially if we play Ode and ESR together so I can see a draw at 2-2 or a hard fought 2-1 win for us.

COYG! Let us climb the EPL table, 3 points at a time


Is the next game critical for our EPL season?

September 10, 2021

So we have played 3 games in the EPL for 3 losses against:

  • Brentford: 2-0 away
  • Chelsea: 0-2 at home
  • Man City 5-0 away

So 0 point, 0 goal scored, 9 goals conceded.

Our next few games are:

  • Norwich at home
  • Burnley away
  • Tottenham at home
  • Brighton away
  • Palace at home

So 3 games at home against Norwich, Tottenham and Palace and 2 away at Burnley and Brighton.

Besides Tottenham, none of the team are “EPL power houses” although Brighton is improving with quality players and Norwich can be dangerous at times.

15 points to be taken and I would stay that we should expect/aim to take at least 10 points BUT if we do not win against Norwich, it could become very tough for us to catch the top half of the EPL table because others may take more points than us and the gap will widen but also because the mood around the team won’t change…until we get a convincing win. For that, I believe that the Norwich game could be a defining game in our season. Win it and you change the mood and get on an upward trajectory…otherwise, we re stuck and pressure piles on the team and Arteta…

So here is my preferred line-up if players are fit enough to start:

Leno – Holding, White, Gabriel – Chambers, Partey, Lokonga, Tierney – Saka, ESR – Laca

I am not a fan of Leno but he did well during last game so we cannot drop him yet.

Here is my prediction…a hard earned 2-1 win with Pepe or Auba delivering us from the bench with the winning goal.

COYG!


Possession football? Attack? Counter-Attack? Press? Counter-Press? Long balls…?

September 3, 2021
6 football tactics that changed the game as we know it | FourFourTwo

FGG and GB were having a debate on our tactical approach:

  1. Under Wenger, we were clearly attack-minded and towards the end, with a clear leaning towards possession football;
  2. Under Emery, we were tactically like a cameleon – changing according to the opponents but the idea was clearly based on quick transition football;
  3. Under Arteta, we are still unsure. It started quite brightly as a counter-attacking team but since then, there has been vague attempts at various types of football

Ultimately, the point was that whatever the brand of football chosen, you need to also have quality players and in the last few years, our squad is not as competitive as it used to be in comparison to other EPL squads. Man City, Chelsea changed the EPL with heavy investors and Liverpool followed suite together with Man Utd. Now, other teams like Leicester, Tottenham, Everton are also investing more willingly and all of them have improved their scouting capability…At one point, we were the best at unearthing talent especially from the continent and we were also very popular because of Wenger and his type of football and his care for young players…now this has gone…

So we sit, as a team that is yet looking for its identity under Arteta. It is full of promising players but they may never fullfill their potential/talent or may decide to export it elsewhere…Who Knows? The point is that maybe, finishing in the Top 6 would be actually a fair target for us – ambitious enough but not too ambitious…Would you be surprised if:

  • Tier A: Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd finished above us?
  • Tier B: What about Leicester, Tottenham, Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Leeds and Wolves?

We clearly are a notch down from the City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd at the moment but what about the other 7? Can we beat them to a top 6 finish? Is our squad in terms of quality better than the Tier B teams?

On another note, seems Arteta may be willing to play with a back 3 and would be happy if he stuck to this idea for a few months…

Is that our most solid team:

Ramsdale – Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel – AMN, Partey, El Neny, Tierney – Saka, Laca, ESR?

Leno – Chambers, Holding, Mari – Soares, Xhaka, Lokonga, Tavares (Soares) – Pepe, Auba, Martinelli

I still can’t see where I would play Odegaard in a 343 set-up…but Arteta knows and hopefully it will work out


The squad is there now. How do you set it up? Who is in your starting XI?

September 1, 2021

Transfer window is over. Arsenal tops the chart in the EPL this season in terms of net spender…but then again, if you look at the pedigree of players joining clubs, you would say that Chelsea and Man Utd have done well with respectively Lukaku-Saul and Ronaldo-Sancho-Varane. On an interesting note, Chelsea have bought for roughtly 100 Mln but recouped most of their investment through the sales of players like Tomori, Zouma and Abraham for example…

Anyways – let us look at our squad:

GK: Leno, Ramsdale, Okonkwo

RB: Tomiyasu, Chambers, Soares

CB: White, Holding, Gabriel, Mari

LB: Tierney, Tavares, Kolasinac

DM: Xhaka, El Neny, Lokonga

CM: Partey, AMN

CAM: Odegaard, ESR

RFW: Saka, Pepe

LFW: Auba, Martinelli

CF: Laca, Balogun, Nketiah

How would you set-up the team given the players we have? Who will be in your starting XI when all players are fit?